Place: Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PA
Opponent: Syracuse Chiefs
J.A. Happ struggled through last season pitching at Triple-A Ottawa, but with the move of the Phillies top farm club to Allentown, Pennsylvania, there was a lot of hope that Happ would turn things around and look more like the prospect that everybody thought he was coming into last season.
On Tuesday night, Happ was facing the Syracuse Sky Chiefs and his pitching opponent was David Purcey, Happ's competition for the top spot of International League strikeout leaders.
The main difference between Happ and Purcey Tuesday night was first pitch strikes. Purcey was generally ahead of hitters and used relatively few pitches to get through the IronPigs order, while Happ was throwing first pitch balls. Through the first five innings, Happ issued four walks and three of them were to the leadoff hitter. Fortunately for him, none of those leadoff walks turned into runs. Unfortunately, they helped make Happ's pitch count rise to the point where he had thrown 104 pitches through seven innings and he was only able to go that far because he had the help of a double-play groundball and picked a runner off of first base. He also settled down later in the outing and retired the Chiefs in order in both the sixth and seventh innings.
While he wasn't throwing enough first pitch strikes, Happ pitched well overall and kept the Chiefs off the board, battling with Purcey, who also kept the anemic IronPigs offense off the board. In comparison to Happ, Purcey threw just 79 pitches through his seven innings of work and on the day pitched eight innings and faced just one over the minimum number of hitters thanks to a couple double-play balls that he threw.
At the end of the night, Purcey overtook Happ for the International League lead in strikeouts beating out Happ nine strikeouts to five to take a 39 to 37 lead in strikeouts on the season.
Hitters were unable to do much against Happ, who was throwing right around 90-92 miles per hour in the outing. The Chiefs hit 11 ground balls and were able to get the ball in the air just four times during Happ's outing.
The latest effort by Happ came on the heels of another seven inning outing where he allowed just four hits and one run. Happ now has a streak of 9.2 shutout innings and has allowed just one run in his last 14, but has a loss and a no-decision to show for his efforts. The good news is that his ERA has shrunk over two runs per nine in his last two outings, going from 5.59 to 3.51 after his latest outing.